NEET politics

The poorly worded ordinance is an attempt to stall medical education reforms

Amit Kumar | May 27, 2016


#Ordinance   #Education   #Health   #NEET  

(GN Photo)

The national eligibility cum entrance test (NEET), a single window examination for entering medical schools for MBBS and BDS courses across the country, was introduced with an aim to remove the hassle of appearing in hundreds of examinations separately. The move was introduced to lessen corruption and irregularities. However, the government took the ordinance route to keep the states out of the ambit of NEET. President Pranab Mukherjee has signed the ordinance sent to him. This has overturned the decision of the supreme court, which in April ruled that the NEET will be the sole examination to enter medical schools across the country.

A brief history


After supersession of the Medical Council of India (MCI) in 2010, the government constituted a board of governors to run the council. The board within six months of its inception envisaged two major reforms among several others in medical education – the entry and exit tests. The board did not continue for more than a year. Their initiative led to amending the Graduate Medical Education (GME) Regulation (which provides norms of admission to the medical colleges) under the Act of Medical Council of India and the NEET regulations were incorporated. I feel proud to have been associated in drafting of the NEET regulations. The GME regulations earlier permitted each state, associations, institutes and deemed universities and other medical colleges to hold their separate entrance tests.
 
Why NEET was required

NEET would have relieved students and their parents from the hassle of taking several medical entrance examinations. It would have promoted merit, checked capitation fee and curbed black money floating in the medical education field. Above all, it would have broken the pay-and-recover chain. In other words, it would have checked the willingness to pay a huge amount of money on acquiring a seat in medical colleges and recovering the same from common men after taking up the service of a doctor. It would have brought down the cost of medical
treatment.

However, instead of doing any good, the recent developments have confused the students of late. Students were worried after the government declared to go the ordinance way, shelving NEET for states and overturning the supreme court’s order.

Meanwhile, the centre and the states had misunderstood themselves to be students. They must remember that it is not them who will take admission in medical colleges but the students. Politics is underway in the name of students. Students in general were elated and welcomed the move to hold NEET. After the supreme court order the students felt good to be spared from taking hundreds of examinations for entering medical schools. Many felt that the corruption would be weeded out and merit would be the sole criterion for admission. However, the happiness was short-lived as the ordinance was promulgated.
 
Reluctance

Despite the SC order in April, there was complete inertia from the government and authorities like the central board of secondary education (CBSE) and the MCI. The SC order recalled an order by a three-judge bench which had in July 2013 declared the NEET contrary to the constitution. Although the path for holding one common entrance test was cleared, the government, the MCI and the CBSE did not take any steps towards holding NEET for the current year. Sankalp Charitable Trust, an NGO headed by Dr (Major) Gulshan Garg, moved the apex court on April 26, 2016 and filed a PIL seeking directives for conducting NEET. It also complained that the authorities were deliberately delaying the conduct of the examination which would ultimately help the private medical colleges which demand huge fees. The NGO was told that the NEET regulations had come into effect from April 11 but there was no explanation as to why steps had not been taken for holding NEET for this year. The authorities agreed before the supreme court that they were committed to hold the NEET this year. Hence, it would not be incorrect to draw inference that at each and every level, efforts were made to stall NEET one way or the other. Earlier it could not be implemented because of the SC judgement in 2013 and now the ordinance has put the obstacle.

Benefits of NEET are plenty and no government is in position to deny this fact; still there is complete lack of political will to implement it. Is it because of politician-medical college nexus? It has been reported widely that not less than 80 parliamentarians have direct or indirect stake in medical colleges. This is now an open secret that every time efforts are made to reform medical education, the same gets bulldozed one way or the other.  


Misconceptions

There was one concern that NEET can be conducted only in English and thus it was against those who prefer regional languages to appear for the test. The objection is baseless. NEET was an objective examination and thus it would not be difficult for students to understand multiple-choice questions in English. Moreover, in GME (the previous regulation) as well as in NEET, it was mandatory for students to pass the English paper in class XII. The MBBS curriculum is taught in English and at the same time terms used in subjects like biology, physics and chemistry are mostly in English. Therefore, saying that students who prefer regional languages as medium of instruction will face problems in NEET cannot be justified. It was necessary to implement NEET as the medical education has already suffered at the hands of unscrupulous colleges and their owners.

The first phase of NEET was held on May 1 with nearly 6.5 lakh students appearing for the exam. The next phase of the NEET was scheduled for July 24.
   
Stalling reforms

The ordinance issued on May 24 inserting a Section 10D to the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Dentist Act, 1948 is again an attempt to stall reforms in the field of medical education. The ordinance is poorly worded in as much as it talks about having a uniform entrance examination for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate levels. A uniform entrance examination is not equivalent to a common entrance test. There can be hundreds of uniform entrance examinations. The ordinance also does not talk about admissions to medical and dental courses on the basis of merit. Seats in private medical colleges which are filled by state governments have been kept out of the purview of the NEET. In states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, 50 percent of seats in private medical colleges are filled by the state CET. Therefore, the ordinance would be the death knell to NEET. It is a regressive step. Besides, it is not permissible in law in as much as it has not removed the basis of judgement of the supreme court and in fact is purely an exercise of judicial function. If it is allowed to stand almost all judgements would become subordinate to the ordinance making power of the executive.

Kumar is a supreme court lawyer who filed the Sankalp petition on NEET.

The column appears in the June 1-15, 2016 issue

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